Peruvian cuisine is starting to become more and more popular in the United States exposing Americans to one of the most complex gastronomy in the world. We hear people talk mainly about Peruvian chicken and ceviche but there’s more to Peruvian food than just those two popular dishes. Should you find yourself staying in Peru, make sure to seek and sample as many of these must eat Peruvian dishes as possible while you are there.
Must Eat Peruvian Dishes
Every eatery in Peru will definitely have ceviche on their menu – considered the country’s national dish – and for good reason. The country’s location just off the Pacific Ocean makes it a prime spot for fresh seafood, the main ingredient for ceviche. Other Latin American countries will have their own variety but the Peruvian version of the dish, often made with raw sea bass marinated in lime juice, red onion, local chilies (aji) and salt, is definitely my favorite among this list of must eat Peruvian dishes.
Ceviche is usually served as an appetizer but can substitute a full meal in itself because it’s usually accompanied by thick slices of sweet potato and Andean corn. Some restaurants, particularly those in bigger cities like Lima, will add other fresh seafood to the mix, such as shrimp and scallops. It’s best eaten with a glass of Pisco sour or chicha morada (purple corn juice).
Visitors to Peru will at one point or another, encounter quinoa, the super food that’s growing in popularity in Europe and North America. However, it may come as a surprise to some that this “exotic” crop, grown in the Andes Mountains has been around for several thousands of years. In fact, generations of Peruvians and Bolivians had the right idea when they domesticated it and made it a part of their daily diet. Quinoa contains a higher percentage of protein, calcium and iron than rice and also has enough amino acids per serving to satisfy the daily nutritional requirement.
Peruvians eat quinoa with everything: as a side to meat and seafood dishes, on its own in soups and even mixed in fruit and honey as dessert, making it one of the must eat Peruvian dishes while visiting Peru. If the locals devour it, who are we to object, right?
Ceviche might very well be Peru’s national dish but one can argue that lomo saltado is right up there in popularity making it one of the must eat dishes while visiting Peru. Its main ingredient is beef or sometimes alpaca meat, marinated in soy sauce and then stir fried with tomatoes, onions and aji peppers until tender. Served with rice and French fries, the dish is a classic example of Peru’s fusion cuisine.
Aji de Gallina
If you’re looking for a more traditional option on the menu, look no further than aji de gallina. This dish made with shredded chicken topped with thick yellow cream might appear strange at first, but don’t let appearances fool you. In one bite, you’ll be able to get a hint of spice (from the aji peppers), sweetness (from the condensed milk) and nuttiness (from the ground walnuts). Often served with rice or boiled potatoes, it’s the equivalent of Peruvian comfort food.
For us Americans, the idea of a cold mashed potato might sound revolting at first, but when mixed with lime juice, spicy aji amarillo sauce and topped with layers of avocado, eggs, olives and chicken or tuna salad, it begins to sound rather intriguing. Such dish is actually called causa, common in markets within Cusco and the surrounding Andean towns. Often shaped like a cake log or a terrine, its colorful appearance is inviting. Just don’t expect icing to ooze from within.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Visitors to Peru will often cringe at the thought of eating cuy, considering some of them had or has guinea pigs as pets, but it’s important to know that the dish itself is a delicacy and an important part of the rural Peruvian diet. Often roasted on a stick and served with potatoes, it tastes just like chicken but a bit chewier and with more bones. The tradition of eating cuy goes back centuries and is unique to the Andean culture, making it one of the must eat Peruvian dishes.